All photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe, modeled by Payge Lecakes of Manhattan Youth Ballet.

3 Exercises to Find Your Deepest Plié

A shallow plié can be frustrating for any dancer. But even if you think you've reached your limit, a deeper, juicier plié may be achievable, says Karen Clippinger, professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. "Many dancers can improve the depth of their plié through persistent stretching and careful attention to optimal body alignment," she says. Barring any structural issues that would shorten your plié, such as bone spurs at the front of the ankle, these three exercises will help you access your full range.

You'll need:

  • a 1/2- to 1-inch thick book
  • a Thera-band

1. Calf Stretch Sequence

Jayme Thornton

"Improving flexibility in your calf muscles can allow for a deeper plié," says Clippinger. To encourage a long-term increase in flexibility, do this series at the end of class when your muscles are warm.

  • Place your hands on a wall (or a barre) and stand with one foot about 12 inches behind the other, and the ball of the back foot resting on a thin book. Bend the front knee as the back heel slowly presses back and down toward the floor, until you feel a stretch in your calf.
  • From this position, press the ball of the back foot down for about 5 seconds (contracting the calf muscle) without allowing any visible movement.
  • Then, relax the calf and bend the front knee further as your weight shifts slightly forward to deepen the calf stretch on the back leg. Hold for about 20 seconds.
  • To stretch the soleus, the deeper calf muscle also used during pliés, repeat the above steps with a bent back leg.

2. Pliés Against a Wall

Jayme Thornton

"This exercise enhances a stable position of the foot that can allow you to 'relax into your plié' for a deeper and more fluid movement," says Clippinger. She notes that many dancers tend to lean their upper torso forward or allow the feet to roll in excessively when they plié. That skewed balance limits your ability to reach your deepest position.

  • Stand in second position with your back against a wall and your feet slightly away from it. Slide down the wall to the normal stopping depth of your plié.
  • Experiment with shifting your weight on your feet, rolling them in and then out.
  • Find correct alignment of the feet while in plié. Your weight should be divided about equally between the heels and the front of the feet, with all toes firmly in contact with the ground. Place a little more weight on the big toes than each of the four smaller toes.
  • From this position, let your leg muscles yield a bit so that you smoothly sink into a slightly deeper plié, with your knees reaching over your toes. Repeat this sinking motion 3 times and then rise while keeping the feet stable. Do 4 complete sets.
  • Next, test out your plié in one smooth downward-and-upward movement using the increased range of motion. Then, plié away from the wall with your side to a mirror, incorporating what you've just practiced: Try to keep the torso vertical, weight centered on the feet, and knees over the toes. Over time, try this technique with pliés in other positions.

3. Turning Out with a Thera-Band

Jayme Thornton

"If you are having trouble keeping your knees over your feet and avoiding letting the feet roll in, try this exercise," says Clippinger.

  • Tie a Thera-Band above the knees and support yourself on your elbows.
  • Reach both legs apart in parallel, then externally rotate the legs and separate them further, staying turned out and working against the band's resistance. Focus on using the deep turnout muscles underneath the gluteus maximus and at the base of the buttocks. Pause for 4 counts.
  • Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
  • Next, stand and repeat the wall pliés (exercise 2), but let the knees collapse in as the ankles roll in. Then, use your deep turnout muscles to help guide the knees over the feet as you perform your desired plié with a stable position of the ankles.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

7 Eco-Friendly Choices Dancers Can Make to Green Up Their Lifestyles

Ballet dancers are known for their empathy and willingness to improve, so it is no surprise that many are educating themselves about the environment and incorporating sustainable habits into their lives. "I recently read that there are more microplastics in our oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. That really hit me," says American Ballet Theatre corps member Scout Forsythe, who has been making an effort to be more environmentally conscious.

Although no one can fix the climate crisis on their own, we can make small, everyday changes to help decrease waste, consumption and emissions. Here are some suggestions for dancers looking to do their part in helping our planet.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Alexandra McMaster

Start Your Dance Day With This Delicious Berry Breakfast Crisp Recipe

When it comes to breakfast, I want it to be easy and convenient but still taste delicious. My Berry Breakfast Crisp is just that. You can bake the crisp on the weekend as meal prep, then enjoy it throughout the week cold or warmed in the microwave. It freezes well, too!

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks